Best game of the season so far.

Three wins on the trot, the most number of points of any Championship side in 2017, a reconnection between team and fans and the growing belief that relegation is no longer a realistic proposition and still the attendance figure at Cardiff City Stadium resolutely refuses to hit the 16,000 mark.

Since the Christmas Holiday game with Villa when a crowd of 21,391 saw us achieve what was, certainly at that time, one of our best wins of the season in a fairly entertaining game played in a proper football atmosphere, attendances have dropped, then plateaued, to the extent that you can only conclude that something like twenty per cent of those present following City on 2 January were once a season merchants.

Fresh from scoring five at the ground last weekend, with attractive opponents who brought far more supporters than Rotherham had done seven days earlier and the attendance yesterday was a measly six, yes six, up on last week’s figure of 15,650! Those who are turning up are doing their bit by creating atmospheres that are an improvement on what had become the norm since the sacking of Malky Mackay, but you have to ask just what does Neil Warnock, his team and, to be fair to him, someone like CEO Ken Choo have to do to get more walk up support for home matches?

Of course, we are in the middle of that period of six weeks every year where Wales, arguably, becomes a nation which supports our “national game”. The Six Nations tournament is being played and so we become something like the country we are supposed to be, if you believe all of the cliches that are peddled about Wales and the Welsh people.

Now, I wouldn’t call myself anti rugby really – how can I be when I made two journeys up to Edinburgh for Scotland v Wales matches in the eighties (we lost on each occasion then as well!), but, the twenty seconds or so of rugby action I watched yesterday in the concourse at the ground as I made my way from turnstile to seat takes my total viewing time for the three games Wales have played so far to something like twenty one minutes.

The fact is that I’m not interested in rugby anywhere near as much as I used to be. A combination of the current side not coming close to realising the potential they showed in the 2011 World Cup and Warrenball has made the Wales rugby team far less watchable for me.

I’m not really in the best position to judge when you consider how little I’ve seen of the Wales team recently, but, based on what I have watched, all of the talk about Wales adopting a more adventurous and attractive approach this season, is just that, talk – they seem as one dimensional and power, as opposed to skill, reliant under Robert Howley as they are under Warren Gatland.

I’ll admit there have been times, especially during the Durban years, where the choice between a City home match and a Wales rugby game on the telly has seen me opt for the latter. I’ll also say that not every home game under Neil Warnock (e.g. Wigan, Brighton and Burton) has offered rip roaring entertainment, but, based on what you get at your average Cardiff City home match and a Wales international these days, I just don’t get the reasoning of those pretty regular football goers who chose to watch the rugby yesterday,

If you fall into that category, I can tell you that, by any criteria that matters when it comes to watching sport, you made the wrong choice because Cardiff City 2 Fulham 2 was a magnificent and memorable game of football. It’s hard to make decisions like this with any certainty and, of course, there’s always that sense of disappointment when your team doesn’t win, but, off the top of my head, I’d say it was the most enjoyable City match I’ve watched since we beat Man City in our first home Premier League match three and a half years ago.

These post match pieces I do tend to be far more of an overview than a blow by blow account of goalmouth incidents and, more than any other match I can think of in the eight and a half years of this blog’s existence, I’m so grateful for this as I type up this report on yesterday’s match. It would be an impossible, and very, very long, job to do justice to the match if I was trying to detail all of the occasions when either goal was under threat – you kept on thinking that a quieter, more considered, period where the match would “settle down” had to come, but it never did.

For any sporting contest to be deserving of the adjective “great” you need to have all of those involved performing well and, certainly when it is a one against one or team against team competition, it also helps when there is a contrast in styles involved – boxing is probably the sport which offers the best proof of this, but football is up there as well and what a contrast there was yesterday.

At this stage, I think it’s right to mention our opponents because I must say that I thought Fulham were the bravest side I’ve seen at Cardiff in years - they were a credit to their club and their impressive manager Slavisa Jokanovic. When I say brave, I don’t mean physical bravery, I mean the bravery which sees them send out a team choc full of natural footballers, the bravery to use their full backs as virtual wingers away from home (unlike Russell Slade, Jokanovic knows the best way to use someone like Scott Malone) even though they were meant to be playing with a back four, the bravery to stick to their footballing philosophy and the bravery to keep on going for the three points as the away team.

Granted, that attacking approach was forced on them to some extent by their need to make up what was a six point gap between them and Sheffield Wednesday in the last Play Off spot, but, Fulham’s goals for record (now the fourth best in the Championship) suggests that they are not a side which likes to sit back and soak up punishment.

There is a, often justified, criticism of passing sides that they can tend to pass just for the sake of it as the ball is recycled in all directions only to end up where they started with the opposition better set up to deal with their attacks, but the single thing that impressed me most about Fulham was that their passing was always with the intention of getting forward – they might have had to take the occasional detour sideways or backwards, but they were determined to not only go forward, but to do so at pace.

I came out of yesterday’s match wondering if there are a better side in the Championship when they have the ball than Fulham – I’m not sure there is. However, although their away goals against record is good, on yesterday’s evidence, they’re some way short of the league’s best when they don’t have possession – I’d say City are better than them in that department for a start.

Nevertheless, I would love it if my side played like Fulham did yesterday every week, but that’s never going to happen is it. It’s a bit pointless to wonder if City have the players who could weave the pretty midfield patterns that the likes of the excellent Cairney, McDonald, Aluko, Johansen and broken jaw victim Piazon (it’s hard to feel much sympathy for him though when he picked up the injury while committing a cynical and reckless foul on Kadeem Harris which had City fans baying for a red card – I thought inconsistent referee Scott Duncan was right on this occasion to only issue a yellow, but it was a poor challenge) can for Fulham – we probably don’t, but we’re never going to find out for sure under this manager are we?

After all, Neil Warnock teams play cynical, functional (read boring) long ball football don’t they – or, at least that’s what I’ve thought through the majority of his thirty seven year career in management.

One of the side effects of facing a team which plays in the way that Fulham do is that it does tend to emphasise how direct and route one your team can be and we were certainly that for much of the time yesterday. However, although I’m a fan of his, I thought it was both unfair and an over simplification for BBC Wales’ Rob Phillips to describe the game as a contest between the Cardiff bludgeon and the Fulham rapier in his match report – yes, we were direct, physical and played a much more basic version of the game than our opponents did, but we wouldn’t have caused all of those problems that the Fulham defence struggled to cope with if we had been just been whacking the ball forward and chasing it.

Although both halves saw the teams score a goal each, they were quite different in character and there were times when we were hanging on in the second period. We needed some luck at times and our visitors may have made the journey back to London ruing some of their missed opportunities, but, when it comes to chances which got away, City were the ones who were more justified in thinking about what might have been.

For all of the good things I’ve said about Fulham, the truth is that the match would, almost certainly, have been over as a contest if City had taken some of the pretty easy looking opportunities which came their way in the game’s first quarter.

Neil Warnock was the guest on Sky’s Goals on Sunday programme last weekend and when he was asked if Junior Hoilett was a good finisher, his typically honest reply was “not really”. Hoilett did well in his unfamiliar number ten role in some respects, but he wasted a couple of gilt edged opportunities before Fulham took the lead and there were times later on when he looked something of a stopgap in a position he has little previous experience of.

Similarly, I’ve heard our manager being none too complimentary in a jokey way of Sol Bamba’s finishing and he was borne out to the extent that the centreback’s limitations in that department were seen when he failed to get a decent enough contact on Sean Morrison’s header from a corner despite being unmarked on the edge of the six yard box.

While that Bamba chance came from the old faithful that is attacking dead ball situations, I can’t remember any others from that source off the top of my head, apart from a second half header from Aron Gunnarsson I think it was which flew narrowly wide with keeper David Button looking beaten.

No, once again, we saw an opposing defence having problems with our attacking pace in open play. With our front four all playing their parts in energetically pressing the Fulham defence and deep midfielders high up the pitch, they all, hardly surprisingly, tired in the last twenty minutes or so, but right to the end when sub Declan John struck the outside of the post from a promising position, City looked dangerous  every time they were able to put together an attack.

So often in the past you have seen us seemingly in control in games, but then you ask yourself what has the opposition keeper had to do during this period of so called dominance and you conclude it was next to nothing. This wasn’t the case yesterday as Button made a series of saves that would hardly fall into the world class category, but were nonetheless all pretty good examples of the goalkeeping art.

If Harris, Hoilett and Craig Noone all became less influential as time went on, the same could not be said of the fourth member of the attacking quartet, Kenneth Zohore, who just keeps on getting better.

If you are going to be super critical, I think we saw no evidence that something I mentioned on a messageboard last week (that Zohore was a scorer of great goals, rather than a great goalscorer) wasn’t true. Also, there were one or two instances where his touch took him away from, rather than towards, goal. In saying that, you can hardly say that two more good goals that both took a bit of scoring yesterday is evidence that he doesn’t score tap ins if he wasn’t presented with any such opportunities – given the level of confidence he’s playing with, I’d like to think Zohore would have been able to put away some of the easier opportunities his colleagues missed.

Also, those touches which took him away from goal, at least gave Zohore the opportunity to show an improvement to his game in that, on both occasions, he was able to get his head up and remain composed enough to create a chance for a team mate (the cross he put over for John’s late chance was a beauty as well).

With strength and pace that his markers couldn’t cope with at times, improved aerial prowess, decent touch and vision and a couple of goals as well, Zohore gave what was close to a complete centre forward performance yesterday and it was interesting to hear Radio Wales’ Ian Walsh set his figure as to the striker’s worth a little higher than the one I’d come up with when estimating his current worth about a minute earlier – I said £5 million.

Whether Zohore can maintain his current standard is questionable, but I would say that even a more low key end to his campaign would not be enough to put potential suitors off now they have seen what he is capable of and so it might be that awkward decisions have to be made quite soon as City receive bids for the man who is fast becoming their most saleable asset.

Any bid for Zohore would have to be set against what seems to be a more ambitious approach in the transfer market at the end of this season compared to what we’ve seen in the last couple of summers.

The good news that Neil Warnock, along with Assistant Manager Kevin Blackwell and Head Coach Ronnie Jepson, has agreed to extend his stay at Cardiff for another season was made even better with the revelation that the club (i.e. Vincent Tan) appears to be willing to allow the sort of spending Warnock wants as long as he is able to engineer a few cuts on the wages side of things himself.

Therefore, although it would appear that the club are willing to push the spending boat out a bit more, we are still in the position where City would have to seriously consider any realistic bid received for one of their better players – after all this is an approach favoured by most clubs at this level and Fulham, for one, have been able to build an enterprising, attractive and possibly promotion winning squad on the back of it.










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12 Responses to Best game of the season so far.

  1. BJA says:

    Paul – Absolutely spot on with your view that this was the best game of the season so far, and that it was being so was evidenced by the fact that so many stayed behind to applaud their heroes. I, for one, have never understood why spectators leave before the end of any game, but that was not the case yesterday and those of us at our end of the game were almost rewarded when Zahore’s magnificent cross was met by Declan John’s prod at the ball hit the outside of the post. Had we scored, and what a celebration would have followed ( including mine upon my return to Creigiau ), it would have been desperately unfair on Fulham. But it really was a great game of football.
    I understand that we had more attempts on goal, 18 than yesterday’s opposition and had those in the early moments of the first half had perhaps a little more venom, we could have been well ahead by the interval. But it was not to be. And, once again our defensive responsibilities were absent when we were attacking from a dead ball situation which allowed the break from which Fulham scored the opening goal. Sadly this has happened on too many occasions this year and our management team really need to ensure that we have two or three of our more pacy individuals in position to prepare for opposition break outs.
    I was interested to read your view that the outrageous and cynical attack on Kadeem Harris only warranted a ‘yellow’, and not a ‘red’. I confess that I sit some distant from where the assault took place, but at the angle from where I sit, Harris had pushed the ball well past Piazon and there was no attempt to play the ball. Now I am not one who normally demands the sending off of any player, but yesterday, I did at that incident. Perhaps, I will review my opinion if ever I see the ‘tackle’again. Which brings me on to my point of the week. How on earth can the football authorities continue to countenance the issue a ‘yellow’ for incidents such as described, and the same coloured card when a player removes his shirt after a goal celebration as our Kenneth did following his spectacular second goal. Plain daft.
    My goodness, what a gem we have ( was it on Mr.Tan’s recommendations? ) in our new hero. Obviously not yet the finished article because your opinion of his goal scoring ability is totally correct, a scorer of great goals, not tap ins, but his general play is causing all sorts of problems for oppositions. He is strong, quick, direct and now actually competing for the ball in the air. He is also the creator of chances. If Jordan Rhodes is £10 million, Scot Hogan similar, and one or two others even more, then if we can afford to keep him and give him better support, then the future is really bright and season ticket sales will surely improve, and attendances will increase regardless of International Rugby matches coinciding. I write as one who has also been to Scotland, Dublin, Twickenham and Paris in support of the men in red.

  2. Russell says:

    Lovely write up Paul , rugby,weather, cost of two home games I think we’re the reasons for not getting 17k yesterday.
    As I texted to our so called city fans who sit nearby and we’re absent it’s your loss ,sadly this fixation of anything Welsh or in a red shirt ironically, is more attractive .

    I know that our group will grow in numbers next year, and the sight of the Lone Gunman at the game is perhaps a sign of the wounds healing.

    I felt unlike the irritating Rob Phillips we are only a few good players from being as good as Fulham,yesterday showed again our midfield needs playmakers.

    Fulham play in clusters all over the pitch ,we seem to allow our front players to run off and become isolated.

    Zohore is developing with every game we can hope it continues and he stays with us and his progress ,his behaviour in the close season around fitness,training will be the critical window in this lads career,however if he continues at this raterm we will find it tough to hold onto him.

    I thought Noone was off his game yesterday, Harris carried the wide threat ,and Hoilett,seems to be a seventy minute player, why subs weren’t used at the 70th minute mark still puzzles
    me as a few of our players were dead on thier feet .

    Wonderful news about Warnock, hope this brings back the list soul’s, however as you say the club have to make it financially attractive to this email who are not so financially secure in life ,even if it means running some tickets sales nearer the profit ceiling.

  3. Anthony O'Brien says:

    In a sense yesterday’s game showed Cardiff’s limitations but more importantly the team’s strengths. Our players did not have the slick and clever short-passing of the Fulham, or their immediate ball-control, or their numerous speed-merchants, but what Cardiff did have was grit, the will to win, and (for most of the time) organisation. though of course the old bugbear of breakaway goals when Cardiff are on the attack did rear its ugly head once more. Perhaps we could claim that Richards was out of position when Fulham broke, or that our fastest player, Kadeem Harris — possibly because of inexperience of defending — chased back at the wrong angle to head off the Fulham player wide on their right wing, who seemed even quicker than Kadeem, anyway, but these are minor imperfections which can be sorted out on the training ground. In fact, the advantages which Fulham enjoyed in terms of speedy players became something less of a threat as the game progressed, and if all our goal-scoring opportunities had been taken we would have gained an overwhelming victory.
    I’d also like to mention our goalkeeper. There seems to be a greater understanding developing between himself and his fellow defenders, and I venture to say that in racing from his goal-line to throw himself onto the ball at the feet of an opposition player advancing into the penalty area, he is actually superior to David Marshall.
    And of course, the limelight is now on Kenneth Zohore. As Russell implies in the above contribution, there might be a danger that Zohore will be dazzled into thinking that he is now so good that he no longer has to work at his game, even though this is not likely to happen under Mr Warnock. Indeed, the manager and his coaches have obviously been striving to develop his performances, especially in terms of what our Blogmeister calls “his improved aerial prowess”. To my delight, Zohore won a number of high balls yesterday with backward headers for Hoilett to run on to. What is still missing in the Zohore repertoire, however, are downward headers to the feet of a colleague. If and when (and I believe it is when rather than if) he will be an even more effective centre-forward, both leading his line and retaining the speed and aggression to run past defenders and score the goals which all we fans are longing to see (and which might encourage the missing fans to turn up once more in their thousands).


  4. Barry Cole says:

    I have to admit that the game was nothing short of brilliant and that goes for both teams
    A fair result it maybe but we still missed some chances and that’s the difference in quality with other teams.
    The same goes for the defence, we are there for the taking on the quick break and I have to question why. The first goal and I can’t remember who chased back with the Fulham goal scorer and for some reason just seem to stop in the penalty area. I still think that Morrison is the weak link but questionshave to be raised on Richards as well.
    That said it’s picking on something we can put right.
    What we can’t put right is the two players we need and the quality difference they will bring. We need a goalscorer but we also need that creative midfielder and I would suggest a left full back and goalkeeper.
    Although I felt that the loss to Norwich was the nail in the coffin for the top six I still see at least one other team getting into that top six and maybe two. The games between the top eight are coming fast and furious and points are being lost. Don’t discount Fulham as one of those.
    If we can look at the next twelve games and put them into thirds, the next four of our games are all winnable. If you look at all the teams above us, a number are unlikely to win one or two of their matches. Provided that we win those four the gap narrows.
    The next four , the first three are winnable followed by a must win at Sheffield Wednesday. Again most clubs above us have at least two tough games against teams in and around the top 10.
    Which brings us to the final third where we have two winnable games and two more difficult games. At least three of the chasing pack have very difficult run ins and by that time we could be in with a shout as we arrive at our last two games.
    I believe at this time Reading will be out of the top six and Sheffield Wednesday will be ready for dropping out. For consistency that would leave Fulham , preston and ourselves.
    Yes it’s a pie in the sky at the moment but never say never.
    Make no mistake we have to win at least 9 out of the twelve and three of those must include wins against Sheffield Wednesday , Newcastle and we do it , it all points to no but hey a few more games like Saturday and I won’t be giving up just yet.
    Onwards and upwards you bluebirds

  5. Barry Cole says:

    My iPad went into self mode as I got to the last paragraph
    It should read
    Including wins against Sheffield Wednesday, newcastle and Huddersfield to do it.
    Everything points to not achieving the goal but hey a few more games like Saturday and I won’t be giving up just yet.

  6. MIKE HOPE says:

    During the early weeks of the season when Man City were flying one of our contributors suggested that alchemy had been involved in the improvement that Pep G had achieved in Raheem Sterling.This was perhaps an exaggeration but how else do you explain how in less than 3 months since the Wolves game Ken Zohore has been transformed from a parks player into a young Didier Drogba!
    When the club starts sorting out its budget and transfer targets for next season I think some priority should be given to a new long term deal for K Z with a substantial 8 figure release clause.
    His present form will surely bring him to a wider audience via the Denmark national side and I doubt that we shall be able to keep him beyond next season-perhaps not even for the start of next season!
    I agree that our recent attendances have been disappointing and I find it particularly surprising that some of our fans would prefer to watch a rugby match.I probably should not be surprised because I have always felt that the Welsh public has been brainwashed into thinking that rugby is our religion and in our DNA.
    I am probably biased as I see our national rugby team as a medium size fish in a very small pond!

  7. Richard Holt says:

    Yes, a great game with two stand-out individual performances – Zohore for us obviously, and Cairney for them who I thought gave an outstanding ‘play-maker’ performance in midfield. I wouldn’t be certain that either will be playing in the Championship next season.
    As far as the rugby comparison is concerned, it’s an issue that has bugged me most of my life. Living in England for so long, I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been offered ‘condolences’ on a Welsh defeat in our ‘national’ sport. Last time was two weeks ago during a Saturday evening when I was on quite a high following City’s 2-0 win at Leeds. As ever, I explain that I couldn’t really care a flying fish about the Welsh rugby team but as usual that’s regarded as some sort of irrational betrayal of my heritage. I could go on for hours on this but I’m sure readers of this blog will understand anyway.

  8. Lindsay Davies says:

    Thank you, Paul, for an ace report on what sounds to have been a terrific match. I’ve finally moved to Norwich, so, I’m even further from Godzone than ever, and much more dependent on the MAYA Blog, Blogmeister, and fellow-Bloggers.
    I know I miss a lot of tricks – especially financial ones – but why do we have to accept that Zohore might have to leave us? That kind of thing was one of my major beefs after our dozy relegation under OGS.
    Brought up on Gerald Davies (whom I regard as one of the great men of our time), I love both Cardiff City and Wales rugby – though not ‘Warrenball’ (or Lummoxball, as I call it).

  9. The other Bob Wilson says:

    According to the BBC stats we had 28% possession, but won the efforts at goal by 18 to 16 with 10 of them being off target from either side BJA. According to the site I looked at, that was Zohore’s first yellow card in about three years and you’re right, there has to be something wrong with a system that punishes what he did in the same way as it does Piazon for his bad foul on Harris – I’ve just watched it again on the club website and I still think it was a red card offence, I’ve heard calls for the introduction of an orange card and I’d say this is an example where something like that would work in that it would solve the problem about the huge differences in what constitutes a yellow card offence.
    I was wondering about the lack of substitutions as well Russell – apparently, Halford and Pilkington had not been 100% during the week, so Warnock was reluctant to use them, but then why have them on the bench if that was true?
    I agree with you about McGregor Anthony, it seems to me that we finally have a keeper that the defenders have confidence in. As for Fulham’s first goal, I think that, just as it did with the Barnsley game, the problem occurred just outside the opposition penalty area where they beat us to some crucial fifty/fifty balls. Once Fulham and Barnsley were in space some twenty yards within their own half, it was a relatively simple task for them to exploit the two or three man advantage they had as they broke. I’d say that Richards was more to blame for being one of the players who lost those tackles close to the Fulham goal, rather than being out of position. My guess is that Richards was exactly where Warnock wanted him to be as the ball came into the Fulham area and, as he was on the floor after losing the tackle he went for, he was, effectively, out of the game from then on – it was odd how Harris never really looked like he was going to catch up Johansen, I think you’re probably right about him picking the wrong angle to run at, rather than him being outsprinted by someone who would have had the ball at his feet slowing him down.
    Barry, I’d love to share your optimism, but I can’t. I say that because of the lack of depth in our squad, a situation which is not being helped by injuries to important players like Manga and Peltier – if it’s right that Pilkington, especially was not considered to be fit enough to be used as a sub for one of our rapidly tiring front four, then it hindered our chances of winning a game that was very important to us if we are to have a chance of a top six finish.
    Good point about a new contract for Zohore Mike and I’d say your analysis of where Wales find themselves in the international rugby pecking list is spot on.
    Cairney was very good wasn’t he Richard. I can remember watching him as a teenager being part of a Hull side being stuffed at Goodison Park and thinking he was a prospect – there have been plenty of times when we could have signed him in the intervening years, but I always thought of him as predominantly a McPhail type passer and we don’t seem to do them lately. However, he was more mobile than I thought he would be on Saturday and I thought that Fulham looked fitter than us in the closing stages despite having played in midweek – I think it’s harder physically for us though because we tend to have so little of the ball in most of the games we play.

  10. barry Cole says:

    paul I never mentioned that we have another great report from you yet again, and lets face it Fulham are a good footballing team and one likely to steal a place in the final six.
    I cant understand the reasoning around people thinking that zahore has to go as I would think that not only did we get him on a good contract but I would imagine he is not on a big wage. If as is suggested that we are likely to be a selling club again I am sure neil Warnock wont be pleased. Having taken him from the scrap heap so to speak he has produced a player that none of our previous managers would be able to achieve. If we are to succeed then the other player we need to try and convince to stay is Manga, whats the odds on that, everything is done for a reason and his injury put paid to speculation about him leaving. He still has options with what he wants to do and any contract will be less than he gets at present. I just wonder working under Warnock will also play a part in his decision.
    it will all unfold soon
    Not only that he has produced a team working well up to their capabilities and we all know that had Warnock been here at the start of the season we would be somewhere near the top.

  11. Lindsay Davies says:

    Well, I might have moved even further from Godzone, but I just booked a local guy to undertake some serious oven-cleaning at the new gaff, and guess what – he’s Dave/David Carver’s son, Paul…born in Cardiff! He knows about MAYA. I’m meeting him tomorrow.

  12. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Well, there’s a coincidence Lindsay, wonder how he knows about the blog? Hope you’re settling in alright by the way.

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